April 19, 2010

Where Sisters of Mercy Minister: Poland (11)

In the past week-and-a-half, Poland has experienced immense tragedy with the death of its President, First Lady, and dozens of senior military, political, religious, and economic leaders in a plane crash occurring on April 10, 2010. These leaders were en route to western Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of another tragedy of the massacre of some 20,000 Polish soldiers and civilians, including many Polish intelligentsia, by Soviet secret police during World War II. The plane carrying 96 people crashed in the attempt to land in heavy fog, and all aboard were killed.

Mary O’Sullivan rsm (Congregation of Sisters of Mercy, Ireland) is well acquainted with the Polish history of tragedy, death, and suffering as she lives in the neighbourhood of the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. She ministers at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz. This Centre (formerly called Centre for Information, Meetings, Dialogue, Education and Prayer) was established in 1992 by Archbishop Franciszek Cardinal Macharski in co-operation with the bishops of Europe, as well as with the representatives of Jewish organizations. For information on the Centre, visit: www.centrum-dialogu.oswiecim.pl.

Mary serves on the Education Team at the Centre and plans programmes for groups and individuals. They offer retreats, seminars, interreligious conferences, and exhibitions, and receive guests from all over the world. They strive to help people encounter the memory of Auschwitz in a way that respects the many dimensions of its past historical reality and roots this memory in a commitment to create a civilization of love.

Mary wrote a short article on her experience ministering at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz. This article can be found at: www.sistersofmercy.ie/vision/pdf/mercy_presence_in_auschwitz.pdf. In it, she speaks of a need (a) to ‘listen to the voice of this earth’, which is an important part of memory-keeping; (b) to ‘listen to the voice of our hearts’ by feeling how we are connected to the story and trying to understand the overall truth implications for our lives; and (c) to be in the silence and to listen to God. It is within the silence that we encounter the question: ‘Where was God?’; and it is within the listening that we hear God ask us: ‘Where were you?’ and ‘Where are you today?’

It is probably fitting that this ministry at Auschwitz is featured during the Easter season not just in terms of the history of Jewish-Christian relations, but in terms of the daily encounters of the Paschal Mystery and the attempt to hold the memory and find God in the immense incomprehensible suffering and death. The Centre holds forth belief in new life as it says, ‘ It is our dream that people who visit Auschwitz and are confronted by these terrible memories may also experience a positive message coming out of this place, which is filled with mutual respect and new hope.’

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